Cover image for Brutal imagination : poems
Brutal imagination : poems
Eady, Cornelius, 1954-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : G.P. Putnam's Sons, [2001]

Physical Description:
108 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
"A Marian Wood book."

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
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PS3555.A35 B78 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Nominated for the 2001 National Book Award for PoetryBrutal Imagination is the work of a poet at the peak of his considerable powers. Its two central sections--which could be called song cycles--confront the same subject: the black man in America.The first, which carries the book's title, deals with the vision of the black man in white imagination. Narrated largely by the black kidnapper that Susan Smith invented to cover up the killing of her two sons, the cycle displays all of Mr. Eady's range: his deft wit, inventiveness, and skillfully targeted anger, and the way in which he combines the subtle with the charged, street idiom with elegant inversions, harsh images with the sweetly ordinary.The second cycle, "Running Man," presents poems Mr. Eady drew on for his libretto for the music-drama of the same name, which was a l999 Pulitzer Prize finalist. Here, the focus is the black family and the barriers of color, class, and caste that tear it apart. As the Village Voice said, "It is a hymn to all the sons this country has stolen from her African- American families."

Author Notes

Formerly director of the Poetry Center at SUNY/Stony Brook, Cornelius Eady is currently visiting professor in creative writing at the City College of New York. His many honors include the Academy of American Poets Lamont prize and fellowships from the Rockefeller, Lila Wallace--Reader's Digest, and John Simon Guggenheim foundations. The author of six previous volumes of poetry of Cave Canem, which offers workshops and retreats to African-American poets

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Best known for outlining the nameless figures of old-time city life in a style that, like Charles Simic's, is at once realistic and abstract, Eady, in his seventh collection, boldly takes up the persona of the imaginary black criminal who Susan Smith invented to take the blame for the drowning of her children. "When called, I come," Eady writes. "My job is to get things done." Rather than launching a direct attack on racial injustice, Eady, in the series of poems that comprise the book's first part, makes this Frankenstein's monster into a secret sharer, bound to sit by the suspect's side and shed an invisible tear. "Why do wives and children seem to attract me?" he asks with chilling na‹vet‚. These poems resemble Ai's monologues of history and headline, an urgent tabloid origami that takes the lurid and the sensational and rediscovers in them the essentially tragic. In the book's second part, "The Running Man Poems," the hero is again a black criminal, one who starts out a bookish prodigy and somehow winds up conceiving of himself as an outlaw, one whose crimes are little more than spearing insects until, we are given to infer, he kills his lover with a razor and buries her in the pines. In both series, poems of secret perspective contemplate the flawed strength of men as imagined through the medium of women. Their brutal subjects and diction work extraordinarily well in opening strange, brutal hearts to the reader. (Jan. 15) Forecast: This book seems designed to reach beyond habitual readers of poetry, but Susan Smith may be too long out of the headlines to generate the kind of media interest needed for it to break out. More progressive high schools, however, might seize on it for generating discussions, despite a few four-letter words and the disturbing themes. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

In his seventh collection, Eady, an African American poet honored with many prestigious awards, combines poetry and drama in works of searing clarity. In the first section, he deftly parses the toxic products of the white racist imagination, specifically the image of the black man as threat. Sentient and precise, Eady writes from the point of view of the black kidnapper Susan Smith invented as an alibi for her murder of her two young sons, expressing in a minimum of gorgeously measured words all the painful ironies inherent in her lie and the ease with which it was accepted, and gradually reaching a state of grace in which anger is supplanted by compassion. The lilting second section contains poems from the libretto for a roots opera titled Running Man. Although the hero has just died, he speaks bluntly and unforgettably for himself, taking turns with his parents and sisters as their voices combine to create a multifaceted elegy for a man cheated out of the ennobling life of the mind, and driven to a hard-hearted existence of misplaced revenge. Donna Seaman

Library Journal Review

Eady's new book consists of two song cycles. The title sequence involves the imaginary black man that Susan Smith created to cover up killing her two small sons. That ugly, sad lie has given birth to a narrator with wit, personality, and unexpected wisdom. Of course, he is a figment of a white woman's imagination, a black man of white invention, and yet his is a penetrating look at race in America: "I am not the hero of this piece./ I am only a stray thought, a solution." Elsewhere in the sequence, Eady evokes the ghosts of other white creations: Uncle Tom, Uncle Ben, Jemima, and Steppin Fetchit ("the low pitched anger/ Someone mistook for stupid"). Finally, the "Confession": "There have been days I've almost/ Spilled/ From her, nearly taken a breath./ Yanked/ Myself clean." In the second sequence, the "Running Man Poems," a black family faces death and the obstacles of color, class, and caste that test them. This sequence was the basis of Eady's libretto for the musical drama of the same name, a 1999 Pulitzer finalist. With its good, thoughtful work, this volume steps forward to face challenges of its own, and it should be appreciated.DLouis McKee, Painted Bride Arts Ctr., Philadelphia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-Eady's poetry is always approachable-often written in a voice almost like speech-so he's a good poet to recommend to YAs who fear that poetry is by definition opaque or elusive. In the title selection, resonant layers of psycho- and sociological complexity make up for linguistic simplicity. The sequence is a series of monologues "spoken" by the fictional black man who Susan Smith invented and charged with the alleged abduction of her children in 1994. The truth-that Smith herself had killed her sons-came out only after the law, media, and popular imagination pounced on the idea of a black perpetrator. Smith was not the first person to capitalize on society's fear of black men and its stereotyping of them as criminals; her crime was simply the most sensational. The disempowering effect of being repeatedly summoned up by whites ensures that this black man is akin to Uncle Ben, Buckwheat, Aunt Jemima, Uncle Tom, and especially Stepin Fetchit-all of whom weigh in with their own monologues in Eady's book. The protagonist examines Smith's accusation from all angles, most powerful and some startling-as when he mentions "one good thing:/If I am alive, then so, briefly, are they," a reference to Smith's children. Smart as a whip and just as stinging, Brutal Imagination is an important addition to any collection.-Emily Lloyd, Fairfax County Public Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One The speaker is the young black man                     Susan Smith claimed             kidnapped her children.     HOW I GOT BORN Though it's common belief That Susan Smith willed me alive At the moment Her babies sank into the lake When called, I come. My job is to get things done. I am piecemeal. I make my living by taking things. So now a mother needs me clothed In hand-me-downs And a knit cap. Whatever. We arrive, bereaved On a stranger's step. Baby , they weep, Poor child .     MY HEART Susan Smith has invented me because Nobody else in town will do what She needs me to do. I mean: jump in an idling car And drive off with two sad and Frightened kids in the back. Like a bad lover, she has given me a poisoned heart. It pounds both our ribs, black, angry, nothing but business. Since her fear is my blood And her need part mythical, Everything she says about me is true.     WHO AM I? Who are you, mister? One of the boys asks From the eternal backseat And here is the one good thing: If I am alive, then so, briefly, are they, Two boys returned, three and one, Quiet and scared, bunched together Breathing like small beasts. They can't place me, yet there's Something familiar. Though my skin and sex are different, maybe It's the way I drive Or occasionally glance back With concern, Maybe it's the mixed blessing Someone, perhaps circumstance, Has given us, The secret thrill of hiding, Childish, in plain sight, Seen, but not seen, As if suddenly given the power To move through walls, To know every secret without permission. We roll sleepless through the dark streets, but inside The cab is lit with brutal imagination.     SIGHTINGS A few nights ago A man swears he saw me pump gas With the children At a convenience store Like a punchline you get the next day, Or a kiss in a dream that returns while You're in the middle of doing Something else. I left money in his hand. Mr. ________ who lives in ________ South Carolina, Of average height And a certain weight Who may or may not Believe in any of the Basic recognized religions, Saw me move like an angel In my dusky skin And knit hat. Perhaps I looked him in the eye. Copyright © 2001 Cornelius Eady. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Brutal Imagination
1 How I Got Bornp. 5
My Heartp. 6
Who Am I?p. 7
Sightingsp. 8
My Facep. 10
Susan Smith's Police Reportp. 12
Where Am I?p. 13
The Lakep. 14
The Lawp. 16
Why I Am Not a Womanp. 18
One True Thingp. 20
Compositep. 21
Charles Stuart in the Hospitalp. 22
2 Uncle Tom in Heavenp. 27
Uncle Ben Watches the Local Newsp. 29
Jemima's Do-Ragp. 30
Buckwheat's Lamentp. 31
Stepin Fetchit Reads the Paperp. 32
3 The Unsigned Confession of Mr. Zerop. 35
What I'm Made Ofp. 36
What the Sheriff Suspectsp. 38
Next of Kinp. 39
What Is Known About the Abductorp. 41
Interrogationp. 42
My Eyesp. 44
What Isn't Known About the Abductorp. 45
Press Conferencep. 46
Sympathyp. 47
Confessionp. 48
4 Birthingp. 53
The Running Man Poems
When He Leftp. 62
Hold the Linep. 63
The Trainp. 65
Pissp. 68
Armorp. 71
Mamiep. 73
Failurep. 74
Homep. 75
Miss Look's Dreamp. 79
Baby Sister and the Radiop. 81
My Sister Makes Me Up While I Sleepp. 82
First Crimesp. 83
Liarp. 85
Sexp. 88
Revengep. 90
What I Dop. 91
Replacedp. 93
Truthp. 94
What Happenedp. 96
Gossip/Denialp. 99
Hungerp. 102
Denouncementp. 103
Running Manp. 105